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Authors: Jennifer Handford

The Light of Hidden Flowers

BOOK: The Light of Hidden Flowers
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BOOKS BY JENNIFER HANDFORD

Daughters for a Time

Acts of Contrition

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

Text copyright © 2015 by Jennifer Handford
All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

Published by Lake Union Publishing, Seattle
www.apub.com

Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Lake Union Publishing are trademarks of
Amazon.com
, Inc., or its affiliates.

ISBN-13: 9781503950870 (hardcover)
ISBN-10: 1503950875 (hardcover)
ISBN-13: 9781503947511 (paperback)
ISBN-10: 1503947513 (paperback)

Cover design by Elsie Lyons

For my grandmother, Anna Pauline Parker

CONTENTS

PART ONE

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

CHAPTER NINETEEN

CHAPTER TWENTY

PART TWO

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

CHAPTER THIRTY

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE

CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX

CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN

CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT

CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE

CHAPTER FORTY

CHAPTER FORTY-ONE

CHAPTER FORTY-TWO

CHAPTER FORTY-THREE

CHAPTER FORTY-FOUR

CHAPTER FORTY-FIVE

CHAPTER FORTY-SIX

CHAPTER FORTY-SEVEN

CHAPTER FORTY-EIGHT

CHAPTER FORTY-NINE

CHAPTER FIFTY

CHAPTER FIFTY-ONE

CHAPTER FIFTY-TWO

PART THREE

CHAPTER FIFTY-THREE

CHAPTER FIFTY-FOUR

CHAPTER FIFTY-FIVE

CHAPTER FIFTY-SIX

CHAPTER FIFTY-SEVEN

CHAPTER FIFTY-EIGHT

CHAPTER FIFTY-NINE

CHAPTER SIXTY

CHAPTER SIXTY-ONE

CHAPTER SIXTY-TWO

CHAPTER SIXTY-THREE

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

A Q&A WITH JENNIFER HANDFORD

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

PART ONE

FATHER AND DAUGHTER

CHAPTER ONE

I didn’t usually mock my life. Really—my disposition was quite agreeable most of the time. In fact, people regarded me exactly that way: Missy Fletcher, a real sweetheart. The same way people described kindergarten teachers and puppies. And usually, I really did have an “attitude of gratitude,” as my father had always taught me.
Count your blessings, daughter,
he was fond of saying.
We have it so good.
But today I felt a gremlin on my shoulder, egging me on.

A milestone birthday could have that effect.

Happy birthday, Missy Fletcher. Thirty-five years old and you’ve barely cast a shadow.

I locked the car and checked my reflection in the window. A disproportionately heavy head of hair for my little face, like a Tina Turner wig on a toddler. I reached into my pocket for a hair band and flattened the puffiness into a ponytail.

I began the block walk up King Street in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, toward the financial firm I co-owned with my father. When I reached our building, I peered up the five steps to the copperplate at the left of the front door.

FLETCHER FINANCIAL
,
LLC

FRANK FLETCHER
,
PAUL SULLIVAN
,
MELISSA FLETCHER

Adjacent to our office was the community center, a redbrick building as old as the Continental Congress. It was the first working day of the month, which meant it was a Fletcher Financial seminar day in the center’s main hall. I entered and saw that Dad was already there, moseying around the room and touching each long table as if bestowing on it a benediction. In a short hour from now, he would be up in front delivering a financial planning seminar, but mostly telling stories and entertaining his buddies and clients.

Let me tell you about the greatest guy in the world . . .
my father would say.
Let me tell you about a gal who was the smartest in her field.
My father was this larger-than-life guy who started every sentence by complimenting someone else.

When Dad saw me, he brightened like his dimmer switch had been turned high. “There’s my birthday girl! How’s my beautiful girl with a beautiful mind?”

“Good, great!” I exaggerated a little. “You look handsome.” Dad wore his perfectly tailored Armani suit, gleaming Rolex, and shiny Ferragamos. “I’m going to set up the buffet.”

“Not so fast,” he said, reaching for my hand. “Spend a few minutes with your old man. Tell me how you are. I mean really. It’s your birthday, a milestone. Are you happy? Are you doing what you want to be doing?” He looked at me like an eager puppy awaiting a treat. “Seems like just yesterday, you were a little baby. I’d sit with you on the floor. I’d hold your little hands and you’d jump—”

“Up and down, up and down,” I said, finishing Dad’s sentence, one I’d heard so many times before.

Such was my father’s daily conversation with me, his never-ending quest to tunnel into my soul. Why was I still single at the age of thirty-five? Why was I—his only child—working at his firm as a financial analyst, rather than pursuing another career? Why had I chosen to stay put, settling only a mile from him, in the same town I grew up in, rather than traveling the globe as I’d claimed I wanted to do when I was younger?

That Dad loved me was a given; that he thought I could live a larger life was a given, too.

“Dad, seriously,” I said, exhaling noisily, like a child. “I’m great. Right where I want to be. Are you ready for the seminar?”

Dad peered around the room as if it were already packed with his treasured clients. “You know what my goal for today is? To talk to every person in this room.” He smiled wide, pounded the table with his fist.

That was always Dad’s goal. To talk to every person in the room. For everything to be “the best.”

As for me, I could think of nothing worse. The exact opposite of my father, I preferred a quiet room, a cup of tea, and a good book.
Let’s communicate by e-mail,
my quiet persona whispered. No need for public speaking. No reason for phone calls.

The clients and prospects filed in. Paul, our third partner, helped me set up the projector. Paul was a lovable Muppet with a heavy helmet of coarse salt-and-pepper hair, caterpillar eyebrows, and a smile that covered half his face. Paul was the best. He’d come to work for Dad before I had even left for college, and now he was kind of like a big brother to me. We laughed as we watched Dad work the room, greeting his old friends, meeting new ones: a touch and a thousand-watt smile. The attendees mixed and mingled, sipped coffee and nibbled on bagels.

“He never tires of this,” Paul said.

“Never,” I agreed. “Ever.”

My father called the meeting to order and I kicked off the PowerPoint presentation, but I knew how this would go. Dad would look up at my first slide and would have every intention of sticking with the presentation, but . . .

“Good morning, friends,” Dad began. “The other day I met with a new client. Let’s call him Abe. Abe was a real worrier about the market. Watches it every day. CNBC is on his television set all day, he told me. He clicks on his online account a good twenty times a day.”

I shook my head and smiled at Paul. We knew exactly where this was going.

“I told Abe, ‘Abe, I want to know how far your house is from my office. When you leave, I want you to do me a favor. I want you to measure the distance, will you?’”

The audience hung on his every word.

“Abe said, sure. Of course he would do it. Then I handed Abe a ruler. ‘What’s this for?’ he wanted to know. ‘To measure the distance from my office to your house,’ I told him. ‘But Frank,’ Abe said, ‘I’m not going to use a ruler, I’m going to set my odometer—and measure it in miles.’”

Dad paused, looked around the room.

He went on. “‘If you measure distance in miles, rather than with a ruler,’ I told Abe, ‘Then why are you checking on your investments twenty times a day? It’s the same thing. Today’s price isn’t your price! Tomorrow’s price isn’t your price! When you wake up on your sixty-fifth birthday, check the price. That’s your price!’”

The audience nodded, wives smiling at their husbands. Paul nudged me. This wasn’t our first time to this show.

“Folks,” Dad went on. “We don’t pick the flowers to see if they’re growing!”

More laughter. More approval.

From the corner of the room I watched as the crowd shook their heads and smiled and laughed because Dad and his thunderous personality had done it again. He spoke loudly, and often, and with conviction, and for these character traits, he was loved and admired.

Dad moved on. “Folks, you all travel, visit interesting places—vacations, to see the kids, to explore mysterious lands. So you tell me if I’m right. When you get on a plane, you want three things: to take off on time, to have a smooth flight, and to land safely.”

Dad looked at me because his flying analogies hit a little too close to home, with his daughter who couldn’t board a plane, even when nearly knocked cold.

Dad talked about hitting these goals, and when he was just about to make his point—to say that having a competent pilot was the same as having a competent financial planner—he paused, leaned against the podium, stared at the crowd. Time decelerated as we waited for Dad to continue. He cleared his throat, and through the speaker system, it sounded like growling. Dad looked at me again, issued a small cough, and wiped at his brow.

I couldn’t fathom what he was waiting for.

Had he lost his place? I glanced at Paul, who knitted his eyebrows in worry.

Dad’s eyes met with mine.
Help me
.

I attempted to send Dad a telepathic message, to prompt him back to his story, because for the first time ever, it seemed that he had drawn a blank. He could always find north, but today, Dad was in the dark, and couldn’t seem to find the sun.

A few people turned from their seats and whispered to their neighbors.

My heart pounded in my chest, the same anxiety that preceded anytime I was forced to speak in front of a crowd. Saliva pooled in the back of my throat at the same time my lips adhered to my excessively dry teeth. My head itched with perspiration. When I looked again at Dad, his jaw was jutting back and forth, up and down, like he was trying to clear clogged ears.

My dad was trapped in a burning building and it was up to me to save him.

Run into it, Missy!
my mind blared.
Save him!
I opened my mouth to speak, to rush headlong into the fiery heat, but nothing came out. The words I heard in my head were crushed by a flaming rafter. I couldn’t help my own father.

Dad looked at me again. A look he shouldn’t have had to give. A good daughter would have stood ready. A brave daughter would never have hesitated.

“So having a competent financial planner,” Paul called, “is like having a pilot: takeoff, smooth flight, safe landing.”

Dad’s shoulders dropped an inch, and his jaw stopped shaking. It was as if he’d been under a spell now broken by the snap of the hypnotist’s fingers. “That’s it, my friend!” Dad said. He pulled out his embroidered hankie and wiped at his brow. “Forgive me, folks! Had a frog in my throat! Thanks for the assist, Paul,” Dad said. “Paul Sullivan, folks, my brilliant partner!”

The grateful smile Dad sent Paul should have been for me. I should be the one with soot on my cheek, not Paul.

Again Dad’s eyes flicked my way, and though he returned the smile I sent him, his eyes blazed feral, like a zebra cornered by a pack of lions. He pushed on. “That reminds me of another story . . .”

And like that, Dad was back on track.

BOOK: The Light of Hidden Flowers
10.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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